Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 20:49 | SYDNEY
Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 20:49 | SYDNEY

Some good news on Pacific labour mobility


Jenny Hayward-Jones


28 March 2008 13:08

During a comprehensive speech on Australia’s relations with the Pacific at the launch of the Myer Foundation Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Duncan Kerr, addressed the contentious issue of labour mobility. He announced that the Government wished to test the demand for labour and receptiveness to a pilot program in various parts of Australia. (An mp3 of Kerr's address will be available on the Lowy Institute homepage soon.)

While there are a number of sectors suffering labour shortages in Australia, the agriculture/horticultural sector is the one most often mentioned and documented as requiring the entry-level labour that a seasonal work scheme could offer. Work by the National Farmers’ Federation suggests that there have been and will be serious consequences for the future of rural areas in Australia if labour gaps in the range of 100,000 jobs are not filled.

The Australian Government is clearly considering this complex issue very seriously and it is now incumbent on rural Australia to articulate its labour needs and define how it would manage a seasonal workforce from the Pacific.  Prime Minister Rudd talked in his foreign policy speech about the link between 'foreign' and 'domestic' policies.  The foreign (Pacific) demand for access to the Australian labour market is there but the impetus for the introduction of a labour scheme must come from domestic producers. A scheme involving a Pacific Islands workforce will only succeed if it is driven, embraced and assisted by Australian employers, not simply imposed by the government to achieve a foreign policy outcome.